What Teachers Want
Feb 19, 2011 Teacher Training 2382 Views
What do teachers want? The answer is simple, more time. Indeed, for me, locating that elusive time creation button has become a quest to be pursued with relentless zeal. Although management and career development books offer suggestions, they don't seem to apply to a person whose work life is dictated by the ringing of a bell.
So, typical of the internet age, I Googled. I found The Grattan Institute report What Teachers Want: Better Teacher Management. It was published last year and offered the suggestion that teachers want a more effective evaluation of their performance. While this may be true, it is not my first priority, and if implemented using corporate style input vs output measurements, it certainly won't provide what I want (after all students are not economic units). So I continued looking. I found advice from an American middle school teacher who made a number of practical suggestions including creating an organised work space, keeping subject 'folders', throwing away old material, using 'to do' lists, generating templates, sharing material with colleagues and occasional peer marking. As useful as these suggestions are, since I am already doing them, they will not answer my question.
As I continued to reflect, I became even more convinced that the various time management, career development, work place guidance systems offered by coaches and self development groups, are rarely applicable to school teachers. I accept that prioritising and delegating and creating systems are constructive strategies but... What if there is no one to delegate to and priorities and systems are dictated by government departments, predetermined standards and bells? What I mean is, as a teacher, the content and skills I must teach are established by State curriculum, the time I have to teach it is set by the school's timetable and students and their parents (quite rightly) expect me to be with my class, teaching. As a result, there is little I can delegate, delete or shuffle.
Before going any further, I should point out that face to face teaching is a 'high energy' occupation which involves juggling multiple talents. It requires a constant state of alertness and flexibility. As a result of this continuous state of readiness and being 'on show', face to face teaching is physically and emotionally demanding. Personally I find one hour of face to face teaching requires more 'energy' than three hours behind a desk. But, this is only part of the work required; teaching also involves countless hours of lesson preparation, marking homework, setting and marking assessments and exams, writing student reports and completing administrative tasks. We also dedicate time to counselling students to alleviate both academic and social concerns as well as speaking to, and emailing, parents. In addition to all of this, we are expected to do playground and after school supervision duties, extracurricular sport as well as attending compulsory professional development and staff meetings.
I realise most professions involve juggling multiple tasks. However the unique experience of teaching is that we are not in control of our own time. We cannot choose how or when to allocate time to teaching or preparation or marking or counselling or supervision or meetings or professional development. Rather, teachers have their face to face teaching, supervision, meetings and professional development hours timetabled. This means most of our working hours are pre -allocated to specific tasks by 'someone else'. For example, my current timetable allocates 26 hours out of a 40 hour working week to teaching, supervising and meetings, leaving 14 hours for me to choose when to do everything else (that includes taking a break to eat) Think about it like this; if I take 3 hours worth of 'break time' in a week (35 min per day) I have 11 hours to divide between 6 classes (1.8 hours per week per class). It is obvious; there is simply not enough time to complete all tasks in a working week resulting in constant evening and weekend work. So, it becomes a 50 - 55 hour working week. It is about now that people usually point out teachers have plenty of holidays. So it is about here that I mention much non term time is actually spent preparing the base part of lessons and organising as much as possible for the term ahead.
As a teacher how can I make positive changes to my work / life balance? I must admit, on initial reflection I do not know. However I do know that I would like to teach fewer lessons in a week. This would provide more time to devote to the classes I have. I would be more prepared because I would have time to build fresh material based on the previous lesson. I would be able to spend more time with each student outside of class and I would feel less exhausted in afternoon lessons. Unfortunately when 'experts' review how to increase teacher productivity (measured by student performance) they rarely seem to factor in the face to face to non face to face ratio. Teachers need time to think in order to create innovative, fresh lessons. They need time to reflect in order to remain fresh and energetic.
One of my theories is that many people believe they know exactly what teachers do since they saw them doing it while they were at school themselves. Anecdotally it seems the more positive a person's experience of school (and the extent to which they valued they felt by their teachers) the more favourable their perception of teachers is. Interestingly these feelings seem to manifest in different ways. For instance, some parents seem to perceive a parent / teacher meeting as an opportunity to right wrongs they felt as a child. They take great delight in being able to tell the teacher exactly what they think. Other parents sit quietly, nodding in agreement to anything the teacher says, while some simply remember their 'best behaviour' and others relax, happy to chat about the matter at hand. On a wider scope, perhaps this is the origin of wider community attitudes toward teachers, or perhaps it is simply a matter of economics.
So, what do teachers want? My response to that question is time; time to teach effectively.
I hope this article has encouraged reflection. I believe that reading opens potential, uncovers possibility and broadens perspective. Similarly, writing offers infinite opportunities. It creates worlds, encounters universes and unlocks secrets.
Am I writer or a teacher? I am both. I am an English teacher with a passion for teaching and writing. I confess, to a propensity for encouraging individuals to discover more about themselves and their world through the magic of narrative.